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Flu by Wayne Simmons

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Ah, the flu.  We all know the symptoms, a runny nose, a cough that feels like there’s glass in your lungs, and of course, dying and then having your corpse reanimate with a never ending hunger for human flesh.

In Wayne Simmons novel, Flu, a new virus is spreading across the Earth, with Northern Ireland at its epicentre.  In order to combat the outbreak, the UK Government becomes increasingly more draconian, quarantining victims by sealing them and their families into their homes.  George and Norman, two PSNI officers, are called in to help quarantine a young mother and her daughter into their flat and as the door is sealed the assembled crowd turn riotous as something attacks them from behind…

Six weeks later and civilisation has collapsed, scattered groups of survivors scrabble amongst the ruins of Belfast for food, all the while avoiding the undead hordes that roam the streets: the resurrected victims of the Flu.  Geri, a young woman, falls in with McFall, a balaclava-wearing taxi driver, and Lark, a tattooed drug addict.  In a block of flats across town, Karen, a young woman religious to the core, is taken in by Pat, an ex-IRA gunrunner, and in a military base in Portadown, the last vestiges of the British Army take shelter and conduct malign experiments on the undead.

Everyone loves a good apocalypse, and over recent years Zombies have become more and more popular as deliverers of The End.  The bookshelves are now crammed with zombie novels, from Max Brook’s World War Z to John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead

Now, I love the idea of a good old apocalypse, roaming the wastelands with a shotgun in one hand, a chainsaw in the other, so setting a book a few miles from where I live is a dream come true.  Unfortunately, this is one zombie apocalypse I would happily pass on.

A zombie novel is essentially a disaster novel – the external threat of the zombie could be replaced easily enough with rapid sea rise (Flood by Stephen Baxter), crop failures (The Death of Grass by John Christopher) or worldwide drought (Drowned World by J G Ballard) – so it is essential that the characters are interesting and compelling in order to carry the story forward. Unfortunately, in Flu, they are not.

Geri is beautiful and feisty, McFall is a failed husband, Lark is a flawed hero, and so on. The characters are clichéd to the point where I almost expected them to go and hole up in a shopping centre.  The two female characters, Geri and Karen, quickly blend into one, alternating between being outgoing to whining about how they want to go outside  (ah, those fictional women and their emotions…).  However, my major bugbear (amongst all the others) is the character of Pat, the ex-IRA member.  In every novel ever set in Northern Ireland (or at least, so it seems) there is an ex-IRA man.  And he’s always remorseful.

This is a massive cliché and to be frank I found myself getting quite annoyed each time the character Pat reminisced about his time fighting the ‘Brits’ and his expert knowledge with various firearms.  At some point in the future, a novel, film or play set in Ireland will not have an ex-IRA man in it and that will be a day for celebration.

There are so many zombie novels out there these days that it’s essential to take the old tropes and do something new with them, and unfortunately Simmons doesn’t do this.  These are your standard undead, with your standard group of survivors.

Flu is a fast paced novel but throughout my reading of it I couldn’t help but feel that another redraft, and another forty or fifty pages for character development, would have done the novel wonders.  The writing is not very tight, with superfluous words appearing throughout and the odd use of punctuation pulling the reader out of the story.  Indeed, at one point I found myself with a pencil in hand editing the text, which is rarely a good sign. 

Decent zombie novels are hard to come by, especially when competing against books like World War Z, and unfortunately Flu just doesn’t make it.  Clichéd characters, untidy writing and a recycled plot have resulted in a novel that joins the other undead hordes of substandard zombie novels.

This is one book that should have remained in quarantine.

Flu (2010)
Wayne Simmons (Author)
Snow Books

Review by Eoin Murphy
Published first online (03/01/11).

Flu by Wayne Simmons - cover